A rich list of BBC stars’ salaries due to be published next week has been described as a work of fantasy by one of the corporation’s top presenters.
The household name is among a group of presenters in dispute with the corporation over the disclosure of earnings, complaining that it will be a “farcical cover-up”.
They say that over the past year many stars have been paid through the BBC’s commercial arm.
As a result some of the wealthiest presenters are expected to disappear from this year’s list or have a fraction of their salaries published, while others have been bumped up.
Multimillion-pound final salary pensions are excluded and sources say this means some highly paid men will appear to earn the same as women when they have greater benefits.
Presenters say the list, to be published on Wednesday, will be meaningless, undermining scrutiny of high salaries and any gender pay gap. Some have pleaded with BBC bosses to publish “all of the true salaries or none”, but their requests have been ignored.
One said: “This is the greatest work of fiction since Harry Potter. It misses off huge pensions and all TV stars’ earnings through the BBC’s commercial studios.”
An agent for another presenter said: “It is unfair on those who are named. Some who drop off the list are also angry because it will look like they endorse hiding their salaries. This is a farcical cover-up.”
However, a BBC spokesperson answered: “This is an old story, reported many times before.
“The Government have agreed that BBC Studios is a commercial operation not underpinned by the licence fee so, just like the independent production companies it competes for business with, it isn’t required to disclose salaries.
“The BBC leads the way in transparency and this year people will see we’ll go even further in the information we publish.”
Hostility between BBC management and its big names has been growing.
Last year the BBC was ordered to reveal earnings over £150,000 from licence fee income and did so in £50,000 pay bands.
Chris Evans topped the list in the band up to £2.25 million, followed by Gary Lineker on up to £1.8m. Graham Norton was on up to £900,000 not including earnings from So Television, which makes the The Graham Norton Show. This year there are likely to be significant changes as BBC Studios – the producer arm became an independent commercial entity in April last year.
Unlike previously, this year’s list does not include any earnings from BBC Studios, which makes shows including Top Gear, Blue Planet, Strictly Come Dancing, Casualty and EastEnders.
Strictly presenters Claudia Winkleman, on up to £500,000 last year, and Tess Daly, who earned up to £400,000, are expected to have a fraction of their total BBC earnings disclosed, if any. Such big names as Sir David Attenborough or Matt LeBlanc are unlikely to feature.
Last year’s list led to a row over a gender pay gap. The BBC has since reduced the pay of male presenters. Radio 4’s Eddie Mair, who was on up to £350,000, quit after failing to agree a new deal.
Those who have taken cuts include Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine, who was on up to £750,000, Radio 4’s John Humphrys, who earned up to £650,000 and the newsreader Huw Edwards, who got as much as £600,000.
It is understood that Evans’s salary has dropped to about £1.75m as last year’s figure included some earnings from Top Gear.